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Born To Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods
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Born To Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods

3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  857 ratings  ·  116 reviews
As the main spoken language of the Jews for more than a thousand years, Yiddish has had plenty to lament, plenty to conceal. Its phrases, idioms, and expressions paint a comprehensive picture of the mind-set that enabled the Jews of Europe to survive a millennium of unrelenting persecution: they never stopped kvetching---about God, gentiles, children, food, and everything ...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by St. Martin's Press (first published January 1st 2005)
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I really wanted to like this book and like the curate's egg, it was good in parts. Wex tells us early on that Yiddish is the language of complaint and sets out to prove that statement the entire rest of the book. The book is very scholarly and much of it is of interest but still, towards the end I was so depressed it was a struggle to finish it. Yiddish may be the language of complaint but its complaints turned humorous in possibly the most onomatopoeic language in the world. (Does schmuck sound ...more
Carrie O'Dell
I love this book, but I also have an unnatural facination with all things Yiddish, considering I'm a lapsed Prebyterian of Irish extraction who grew up in Tennessee. Wex takes his own sweet time explaining a variety of Yiddish expressions and obscure idioms as well as Yiddish the goys use daily (hint- schmuck is a much nastier name for someone in Yiddish proper). He digs into the cultural roots of a variety of idioms while explaining the development of the language. Reading may take some patienc ...more
I didn't really "like" this book so much, but I am glad for the new information it gave me, and I'd probably actually give it 3.5 stars, but I really didn't enjoy reading it all that much, so three stars it gets.

As someone with hardly any knowledge of Yiddish, parts of it were pretty boring and useless. Although all of the cultural aspects were fun to read about, sometimes it seems like pages and pages of a phrase in Yiddish followed by its English translation. All of that went "into my left ear
The Yiddish language is alive and well in Kiryas Joel, New York, materially the poorest but presumably spiritually the richest town in the United States, where the Satmar Hasidic residents' pious lifestyle is subsidized by the impure Gentile United States via food stamps and Medicaid. It survives in a few more similar places: from Williamsburg in Brooklyn to Stamford Hill in London to Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. Millions of descendants of Ashkenazi Jews in the United States have switched to Americ ...more
I really, really wanted to like this book. I've always been fascinated by language, and I wanted to learn more about the Yiddish I have heard bits and pieces of throughout my childhood. What I have learned from this book is that I don't know ANY Yiddish.

The book starts out well, explaining the mindset that gave rise to a language like Yiddish that has no homeland. However, Wex quickly turned the rest of the book into a litany of definitions. Without knowing any Yiddish at all, or even how it's c
Born to Kvetch is about Yiddish. Specifically, it’s a combination history and cultural study, filtered through the study of a language. Wex does a very nice job of explicating not only how Yiddish evolved, but how the very character of the language is uniquely Jewish, and indeed, uniquely Diaspora Jewish. Along the way, he also traces the development of the language, including how it split into various sub-types, where certain words and phrase came from, and how the language and culture deal wit ...more
Erica Verrillo
I can't kvetch about this book because it was great. (In spite of all the dated pop culture references.) Michael Wex does an excellent job of describing Yiddish and conveying the underpinnings of the culture that gave it birth. He does so with profound insight, with an impressive breadth of scholarship, and with an occasional one-liner that will have you laughing out loud. (My favorite was "The kvetch is a living nightmare; the curse, a dream deferred.")

Wex does not spare his readers the socioli
This is a demanding but very funny read that is unlike any other book I have ever read. It gives an over view of Yiddish (mainly its idioms), structured by the phases of Jewish life (in the shtetl). I cannot conceive of a similar book covering Russian, Spanish, or French. I can imagine such a book for Mayan; maybe books like this are only possible for rare languages associated with a lost world.

The world Wex describes is alien to me. After reading this, I understood why my ancestors were so prou
4 Stars - lots of fun if interested. A rollicking trip through the history of Yiddish and its speakers. I skimmed the more scholarly bits, not too many, not because I'm not interested, just knew I wouldn't remember. The joy of the book is in the author's trenchant observations about Jewish culture and tradition, the derivations and connotations, of various terms, and the best situations for the use of each juicy term. For added richness, read the material at the end - an interview with the autho ...more
Dec 15, 2007 Lucy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in Yiddish
Shelves: jewish
I read this with my book club at Temple. It is one of the few books that everyone didn't kvetch about a lot. Usually we pick a book and then spend about 1/4 of the time complaining about why we don't like it. But this one seemed to be pretty well liked. It wasn't as funny as I expected from the online summaries and reviews I had read. But it was very interesting. A lot of Jewish culture comes along with Yiddish and we had some good discussions about that. I was frustrated with not being able to ...more
Dave Maddock
Pretty cool book, but it got a little formulaic in the middle. Thankfully, the ending was rescued by the awesome chapter on swears with sexual connotations.

Being a language dilettante with a soft spot for dead or rare literary languages, I was pretty fascinated with Yiddish going in. Learning about Yiddish culture has cooled that somewhat since it seems so heavily permeated with religion.

Since Yiddish heavily borrows from German and Hebrew, perhaps I'll take a stab at learning it when I already
Darshan Elena
This book isn't for putzes or wusses; it delves into the roots and routes of the pithy phrases for which Yiddish is famous. Fans of lexicographers will adore it; and I, I am such a fan! What I most loved about this book was the knowledge I amassed of Yiddish - that is Jewish - traditions related to sex, food, death, and gender. I love finishing a book and feeling richer for its reading! To gain the fullest benefits from Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods, I will nee ...more
Oy, did I love this book! Serious exploration of how Jewish culture, particularly Ashkenzic Jewish culture, is reflected in the Yiddish language. The scholarly stuff is good. But what makes this book for me Wex's writing. His presentation of the material is funny, and wry and fabulous. Here are a few examples :

On Yiddish reflecting the Jewish condition of exile: "Judaism is defined by exile, and exile without complaint is tourism, not deportation."

On a phrase that translates as "lying in the gro
There are many good sides to this book, to be sure; the best thing is the author's vast knowledge of Yiddish idiomatic. But it lets itself sweeping generalizations for the sake of being aphoristic, it’s more witty then clever, more sharp then profound, and overbrimming with redundant and repetitive similes with popular culture motifs that bored me no end. Because of all that,it felt more like a transcript of some stand up sketches than a consistent book.
I didn't love all of the passages but I could see how someone more interested in Yiddish etymology and linguistics might give this book 5 stars. I enjoyed learning to origins of Yiddish, the curses/insults, and even names for body parts. It saddens me a little to think that my rather negative outlook on things might be this embroiled in my being but "Judaism is defined by exile, and exile without complaint is tourism".

The author not only does a great job explaining the history and linguistics of
I'm actually listening to this book on CD. It's perfect for the car. I enjoy dipping into the book. There are certain phrases that just mean so much more to me - I should have such luck. I like how the book relates words to a frame of thinking. How language has power. I also enjoy Michael Wax's voice. He's perfect to read the book.
This was a surprisingly informative as well as hilarious outline of some of the quintessential, Yiddish-Jewish personality traits, born of the shared cultural perspective and (for lack of a better word) tribal consciousness of the Jewish Diaspora, particularly, the Ashkenazim. The focus, as the title suggests, is on one of these traits, namely, the "kvetch" or gnat-straining, sometimes neurotic tendency to fidget, fuss, and express the aforementioned in all manner of humorous and sometimes not s ...more
I absolutely LOVED this book! Every page had at least one belly laugh. Wex masterfully demonstrated how the contrarian nature of Jewish humor is reflected in the Yiddish language.
McKenzie Richardson
A very informative and humorous read.Instead of focusing on vocabulary, this book gives a lot of conversational phrases to use in different situations. This made reading it much more interesting. Wex also includes many personal stories, which helps to make the text easier to read and comprehend. The book is broken up into sections according to topic such as nature, money, sex, and death. Each section includes cultural information as well as phrases from Yiddish and their origins. I also like th ...more
Thom Dunn
Ranks with Leo Rosten's Joys of Yiddish.
This book I was reading a few years ago ! What a joy it was ! From the little anecdotes, to the jokes and the explaining of the Yiddish ! The famous humor from the people of "the tribe". Its a jewel, that book, for everyone who likes to read about it ! The Jewish people and their way of expressing themselves. When a stranger walks by or not to be heard from others. "Kvetch - complaining or whining". There are also sayings and verses in from famous people, like actors, poets, thinkers and so on. ...more
I thought that this was a really well-crafted piece of informative nonfiction. It was funny and clever, and I enjoyed learning about orthodox Jewish culture. Yiddish is a beautiful, complex, and fascinating language that I knew almost nothing about before I picked up this book. It's rife with irony, puns, and countless charming idioms. But what I think is unique about it is that it grew organically from separation, secrecy, sorrow, poverty, and general otherness.
I've never been more aware (or r

This is a fascinating book. Wex uses every inch of his background from Jewish childhood to stand-up comedian to Yiddish scholar to expound and sometimes skewer the language he loves. It's an easy love to see.

Overall, Born to Kvetch is a nice balance of humour and erudition. It clips along nicely, loosely stringing sections together and giving a breath of a laugh between heavy translation. Some of the text is a little dense, but Wex skilfully lightens it just when your head is starting to spin. R

If you're not a linguist (which I'm not) or Jewish (which I am), you probably won't find much in this book. Even if you are Jewish, if you didn't spend some part of your life at least hearing Yiddish spoken regularly (my grandparents) you won't get it. The soul of Yiddish is in the inflections, not in the written word. I almost wish I'd listened to the "book on tape."

At any rate, the linguistic explanations did bring warm back memories of many of my grandfather's favorite expressions: "A nekhtik

You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy this book.

This is a genuinely funny book. The author has a great sense of history and humor. I like reading books by authors with a strong voice and Michael Wex most definitely transports you. I learned a lot about Jewish culture by reading this book but I also learned a lot about the nature of complaining (kvetching).

In reading this book, you learn a ton about Yiddish. I don't think I realized how much Yiddish has pervaded colloquial American English until

This book examines Yiddish and all it's details and eccentricities. It was kind of hard to get going but there were funny anecdotes and explanations that kept me going. I don't see how a lot of people would read this book willingly other than Jewish folks or the Jew-curious.

I had the book out on my coffee table the other day and I asked people to tell me what they thought the book was about. None of them guessed right because they had never heard the word kvetch! So much for a good education!

Joseph Young
Mar 11, 2011 Joseph Young rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in Yiddish
A quite interesting touch upon Yiddish and its many facets. The author's voice was hard to deal with, especially since the first disc dealt mainly with complaining. Made me want to drive to the author's house and kick him in the nose, even at the risk of being labeled anti-semitic. Thankfully, the author lays off the excessive intonation and you get used to the voice, allowing you to even enjoy much of the deadpan humour.

Honestly, being of an optimistic nature, I get annoyed at people who compl
Katya Epstein
The first five chapters of this book should be required reading for all Ashkenazi Jews and anyone in a relationship with one. No, your loved ones are not oblivious to your accomplishments, and they don't think you're a complete failure. They just grew up in a culture that never unlearned the disphemistic forms of expression with which they once protected themselves from their superstitions. I wish this book had been around when I was growing up; it would have helped me a lot.

The remaining eight
Knowing Yiddish would definitely have increased my appreciation and ability to retain much of this book. However, despite that lack, I still gained considerable insight into historical & religious reasons behind cultural stereotypes of Yiddish speakers. I don't think I'll remember a single Yiddish phrase from this book and there were many passages I skipped or skimmed because they were so full of Yiddish that I couldn't follow.
Rory Cooney
There is a lot to like in this book, even for us goyim. As a non-speaker of Yiddish and a hopelessly Gentile Irishman, I found the audio version of the book, read by Wex himself, generally entertaining and informative, and, as I suspect the author realizes, a window into the heart of Judaism itself. Especially interesting to me we're insights about attitude and language clustered around the experience of exile, homelessness, and expectation. At the very least, I'll be much more careful in the fu ...more
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Michael Wex is a novelist, professor, translator (including the only Yiddish translation of The Threepenny Opera ), and performer (of stand-up and one person shows). He has been hailed as a Yiddish national treasure and is one of the leading lights in the current revival of Yiddish, lecturing widely on Yiddish and Jewish culture. He lives in Toronto.
More about Michael Wex...
Just Say Nu: Yiddish for Every Occasion (When English Just Won't Do) How to Be a Mentsh (And Not a Shmuck): Secrets of the Good Life from the Most Unpopular People on Earth The Frumkiss Family Business Shlepping the Exile Born To Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods

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